of John G. Benkie
In the spring of 1870, my Uncle
John Benkie, and I went to White Oak Grove for dogfish.
Armed only with clubs we got a bag full in hardly no time,
and it was all we could do to carry them home.
Uncle knocked the fish out and I pulled them out of the water
with strong willow pole. That
summer I visited the Osten Landing, and there I met Sam Osten and
Sam Meeker, who lived there. Each
man had a shack to live in. Each
man had live boxes that were filled with all kinds of fish, and when
I left them they loaded me up with all kinds of fish, and told me to
come back for more anytime. So I visited them quite often for this reason.
John Benkie in front of group
There was only one Bridge that
time connecting La Porte and Marshall counties, which is called the
Lemming Bridge, and in 1874 English Lake came into bloom by the
Richmond Indiana Club. Judge
Blodgett was the president of this club, and later Cincinnati joined
them. At this time
Charley Rodgers was a president.
Indianapolis club members hunted north of there, and Ranse
Allen, Bob Brown and Fred Ange were trappers and fishermen, but no
hunters. The boat
pushers were Frank, Joe and Max Trinosky, and Fred and Harry Cass.
Crumb Creek and Mill Creek ran
into Mud Lake, and then to Fish Lake, which is the real start of the
Kankakee River. No
railroad crossing except the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago
railroad. Then came the
Nickel Plate railroad in 1876.
The second bridge was the Loudge Bridge, 1 ½ miles south and
west of English Lake. The Lafayette Fish Club built a cottage on the
south side of the river. Tom Hogen, Charles Sherwood, Dr. Cakel, Tom
Gagen, J. R. Young and Capt. Keys, from Kentucky, an Ohio River
pilot, was overseer of this club.
West of the railroad was the Wampoo Bridge and then in 1888
Dunn’s Bridge was built. My
fishing experiences are too numerous to mention since I began
fishing in the old channel and now the new one.
I don’t think this present generation would believe my
stories even if I told them. I
have spent many pleasant hours on the river, and down in my cottage
at Point Comfort on the banks of the Kankakee near here.
In my hand I hold a commission granted to me by
George W. Miles, Commissioner of Fisheries and Game.
It bears the date of May 9,1911.
It reads as follows: Be known, that John Benkie, of Kouts
Indiana, is hereby authorized to have in his possession spears for
the purpose of taking carp from the Kankakee River and its
tributaries, together with assistance as he may designate
l-r George Klebs, William
Spears, John G. Benkie
No person, except said John Benkie shall have
the right to have any such spears in his possession except when they
are being used by virtue of this appointment, and under the
direction of John Benkie, and the said John Benkie shall at all
times securely keep all such spears in his possession when they’re
not being used. The
fish taken by virtue of this appointment shall not be sold, but
shall be distributed among the people who take them and those living
in the vicinity of the waters from which they are taken.
Dated at Indianapolis, this 9th day
of May, 1911.
George W. Mills, Commissioner of Fisheries and
The story behind this strange document is as follows:
There were at this time two poor boys who lived on the Jasper County
side of the river. One
was Willie Bush and the other was Burt Wiserman.
The boys were out one day on the marsh and were caught
spearing dogfish by a game warden.
This officer arrested them and brought them before Justice
Homer Porter in Kouts. The
boys were found guilty and fined $28.50, which they could not pay.
Judge Porter asked me if I would go on their bond, which I
did. I then wrote a
letter to the Fish and Game Commissioner at Indianapolis, and told
him the facts and circumstances.
I did not think the boys should be punished for taking
dogfish from the marsh. Mr.
Mills wrote Justice Porter and instructed him to release the boys,
and dismiss the case against them.
Incidentally, he fired the game warden who made the arrest.
The order authorizing me to have spears in my possession for
the purpose of taking carp from the river and its tributaries has
never been revoked and so as far as I know it is still in full force
and effect. I know of
no other of its kind in existence.
Another early businessman that served Kouts
long and faithfully was John G. Benkie who came here from Wanatah
with his wife and two draughts, Etta and Mae, in 1890.
Kouts was not an unknown place to him because his father and
uncle had worked here on the construction of the Pittsburgh,
Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad in the 1860’s
Mr. Benkie, a pharmacist with experience both
in Wanatah and Chicago, bought the building just south of the Erie
Railroad from Dr. McKee who left Kouts to practice in Chicago. When
Benkie first came to Kouts they lived in a cottage where the Heinold
Elevator garage is now, and in 1895 built a large home on the same
street with Kosankes and next door to the Rosenbaum home.
The cottage was moved out on 49 and incorporated in the Doyne
A son, Raymond, and daughter, Louise, were born
here. In 1900 Mr.
Benkie enlarged the drug store and it housed the first telephone
exchange Kouts had of only twenty subscribers.
In 1918 a new front was added and in 1925 an addition was
built on the back bringing the building to its present size and
appearance. After a
course in pharmaceutical school Raymond joined his father in the
business, and he and his sister, Etta operated the drug store alone
after the father’s death in 1939, and until Raymond’s death in
1950, when the business was sold to Louis and Dorothy Marquardt.
Jorgensen Heating and Sheet Metal rent the building, still
owned by the Benkie’s.
Housing the first telephone exchange in his
stores Mr. Benkie did cast its spell and one of his family. Louise served as an operator for over thirty years both in
Kouts and later in Valparaiso as the Kouts office was closed by
retired in 1963 and she and Etta occupy the family home maintaining
an active and ever friendly interest in the community.
Kouts home to be featured on HGTV program
January 22, 2006
Kouts- A home built in the late 1800’s will
appear in an upcoming segment on HGTV’s “If Wall Could Talk.”
And John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical
Society, could not be happier because the show will give the hone
and its original owner, local druggest John Benkie, the due they
“I think it’s important that Kouts gets notoriety, and John
Benkie is a local success story,” said Hodson, who owns 150 acres
that once belonged to Benkie. Hodson
is in the process of returning the former farm land back into
Benkie, born in 1857 in Germany, moved from Wanatah to Kouts around
1890 to take a job as the town’s druggest.
Benkie moved to Kouts with two daughters, Mae and Etta, after
the death of his first wife, Rose, Hodson said.
Benkie and his second wife, Molly, had a son and daughter, John
Raymond and Louise. In
1895, the couple had builder John Steiner construct a home for them
The home, Hodson said, is in the Queen Anne/pre-classical
architectural style, and state officials have said the home is a
notable resource, significant for its architecture.
Benkie, who went on to become a respected businessman in Kouts and
served on the school board and as a local politician, fascinates
“That’s why he’s a small-town American success story,”
Benkie’s home remained in his family until 1989, when his daughter
Louise died. At that
point, the Kosanke family, which owns a funeral home in town, bought
the home and began to restore it.
Members of that family still own the home today.
The home, its history and preservation caught the attention of
producers for HGTV’s show “If Walls Could Talk,” who began
research about a year ago into possible segments for the program.
“I think one of the biggest things that appealed to us was the
historical signs around the home,” said Liz Kerrigan, an associate
producer for the show, which is produced by Highnoon Entertainment.
The five-minute segment on the home premieres tonight.
Kerrigan and her crew were in Kouts in August taping for the
The fact that the home is in a rural area, and its original owner
were prominent in the community, also helped in selecting the Benkie
house for a segment on the show.
In the course of renovation and restoration work, the home’s
owners found jewelry and other artifacts from the Benkie family.
The owners went on to research those objects and their
“The process of discovery is one of the most important to us, “
Kerrigan said of the owners’ research.
This Old House to Share its Story
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
| Even a house has its 15 minutes of fame.
time has come for the Kouts home built in 1895 by pharmacist and
prominent citizen John Benkie. The house's treasures and stories
will be the subject of a spot on the Home & Garden Television
show "If Walls Could Talk" on Sunday.
Joan Kosanke and daughter Sue Yates bought the Queen Anne-style home
16 years ago, they also acquired its contents, which included
diaries, home furnishings -- and an apron made by the wife of the
Kankakee Valley Historical Society President John Hodson, who
suggested the house for the show, Benkie represents the immigrant
strength of the country.
as a 10-year-old in 1867. His family settled in Wanatah, but the
young man eventually was lured to Kouts, which was in need of a
pharmacist. The pharmacy he built now is occupied by the Koffee Kup
said Benkie was hardworking and became involved in local government,
the school system and the town's development.
great, typical immigrant success story," Hodson said.
also owned 160 acres along the
near Baum's Bridge, including, for a few years at the turn of the
20th century, the Collier Lodge property.
the historical finds Kosanke and Yates turned up was the diary kept
by Benkie's son Raymond in which he recounts his experiences as a
in World War I. After the war he visited each of the 48 states with
the American Legion and wrote accounts of those travels, too.
is how Kosanke describes it.
also found an embroidered muslin apron she was about to put in the
"to go" pile. But looking in a pocket, she found a gift
note to Benkie's daughter Etta signed by the wife of the town's
founder Barnhardt Kouts.
the treasure will go to the history room at the town library.
where it belongs," Kosanke said, "where people can see it."